Part Eight – The Warrior Comes Home
Chapter 28 – What Price Compassion
By Ghost Dancer
The Covid-19 pandemic hit all the prisons hard early in 2020. By April 1st all normal activities had ceased at Talladega and we found ourselves on total lockdown with no relief for months. There was no fast-track out for the most vulnerable people but we were urged to start the cumbersome process to apply for a compassionate release. I applied for help through a program set up by FAMM, an activist organization, to match applicants with attorneys willing to represent them pro bono.
My case was not taken, so I decided to go ahead with a pro se motion. Since I had been convicted in two separate federal courts, I would need to submit motions to both courts. With the help of friends and family writing letters of support, we had all the necessary documentation ready to file in September 2020.
The federal judge in Florida who presided over my primary case wasted no time in responding, and with very thoughtful reasoning, granted my release. When authorities at the prison learned of this, they like everyone else, began to prepare thinking the court in Mississippi would follow suit shortly. This was not to happen however. It would take another full year before the judge reluctantly granted my release only after repeated emergency notifications of multiple episodes of cardiac arrest putting my very life in imminent danger.
Finally after more than 26 years, with my health now in shambles from the continued physical and mental stress of total isolation the sudden ruling caught the prison authorities off-guard. Much of the earlier paperwork had been discarded and chaos set in as the staff scrambled to prepare for my immediate release.
I was told different stories about how I would be transported home after being cleared to travel by medical due to my poor health and handicaps. First I was told that U.S. Marshals would drive me home to Florida in a handicap van. Then later while I was still waiting for them to complete the release process I was given another story that a special handicap equipped bus would take me to Florida. I had little time to even contact my family before my communications were cut off so I was never able to give anyone a clear idea of when, where or how I would arrive.
In actuality, neither of these things happened. Instead, I was literally kicked out the door. Fully chained, shackled and black-boxed as tightly as possible, I was driven in a prison van by guards to the bus station in Birmingham, Alabama. To make matters worse, the guards made a production of unloading me in my wheelchair and removing the shackles right in front of crowds of people. In a voice loud enough for all to hear, one of the guards told a cop standing there to keep a sharp eye on me, that I was a dangerous terrorist and should never have been released from prison. Where, I wondered, did that come from?
So everyone in the bus station heard this and yeah, it was obvious they all were staring at me. It would be hard to explain any other way what this man’s words and actions did to me and the fear he put into everyone around. Think about a wild wolf, I mean a really wild wolf, that was captured and placed into a tiny cage and kept there for decades. Then suddenly the door is opened wide. For a moment the wolf doesn’t even know he is free and can step outside. This was me; I kept looking to see where they were hiding, just waiting to come snatch me back or outright shoot me.
So I sat. I didn’t even go to the bathroom. I didn’t have enough money to really eat anything or even buy more than a bottle of water. They gave me a few dollars that was supposed to provide for two meals but the price of food in the vending machines for anything to eat was so expensive that I didn’t buy anything. I don’t know how or where they expected me to purchase anything to call a meal. My bus was not due for hours so I waited, fully aware of the stares. I could feel the people’s energies of distaste, hate, and anger towards me. I just smiled and listened to beautiful Native music on my MP3 player. Hour after hour I sat there waiting.
At one point, several young thugs began aggravating a middle-aged woman, poking at her and trying to pressure her to go over in the bathroom with them. I watched them grabbing her in the private areas, while the cops all stood around ignoring her pleas. The cops just looked at the guys then turned and went outside. This only made them more aggressive.
Finally, I could not let this go on anymore. My duty as a spiritual warrior and as a man could not stand by and let this happen. So I wheeled my wheelchair over to them and stood up. I told them to back off and leave this woman alone. She had said, “No” so I asked them what part of that didn’t they understand. Now these young men were there when I was released from the prison van so they knew and heard what the guards had said. I was nowhere near physically able to fight all of them, but I would have if necessary. Yes, I realized I was risking my freedom, but my morals made it mandatory that I do something. Luckily they backed off not liking it and spitting all kinds of bad words at me but that didn’t matter. I have thick skin and I just ignored them.
I told the woman she could sit by me if she wanted to and I would make sure no one bothered her. She thanked me and she did sit right there with me the whole time. We were both headed to Mobile so we were waiting for the same bus. When we finally boarded, she sat in the seat next to mine all night to Mobile. The bus made several stops along the way and each time she offered to get me something to eat or drink. I declined; didn’t want her to think she owed me anything. I just did what any decent person would have done.
It was 5:00 am and dark when we got Mobile, Alabama. The place looked mighty rough; the bus station was literally closed, there was no security and there were thugs and drug addicts hanging out all around. There I was left to sit there amid all this until the next bus arrived. One person even overdosed; an ambulance finally came and took him away. He didn’t look too good.
So a few stressful events took place on the way to Pensacola. I managed to avoid any physical altercations luckily but had to stand up and confront different ones at times. I can look mean when I have to and standing to my full height can be seen as ready and willing to defend myself. Bullies only pick on easy prey or what they believe to be easy prey. Sometimes the prey can be pretty intimidating when provoked.
Finally the bus came and I got to Pensacola early in the morning just as the work-day was getting started. I knew Cat didn’t know when or how I would arrive and I was anxious to get there and contact her to come and get me. Everything had changed so much and I had no clue where I was actually. The bus station was closed and there were no pay phones any more. I had been given money for a taxi to Cat’s house but there was no taxi in sight.
I saw a person nearby talking on a cell phone and when he finished I asked him if he could call someone for me. He handed me his phone and said, “Here, call them yourself.” When I explained I did not know how to use one, he looked at me and said, “No way! You’re joking me right?” I told him I had never even seen a cell phone and sure had no clue how to use one. So I gave him Cat’s number and he dialed it for me. I waited anxiously to hear her voice but all I got was her answering machine. Her voice said I could leave a message so I did and told her what I could see because there was no road or street signs anywhere. I told her I would be waiting here for her or try to get a taxi.
I waited about 20 minutes and not knowing if she was even awake yet or heard my message, I decided I must take action. I was not happy when I couldn’t find anything. Now I could not wheel my chair forward with my arms. I normally had to use my feet to go forward or backward. So I pushed myself backwards in my wheel chair, down the road, around a curve and into the entrance to a McDonalds with the idea that someone there would call a cab for me or call Cat again.
I got inside, waited in line and asked the lady at the register if she would call me a taxi. She said she would when she got the time. Then she asked if I wanted to order something? So I figured maybe if I bought something she would make the call for me faster so I ordered a coffee and waited. I watched and waited and kept on waiting for more than 30 minutes. She didn’t appear to be doing anything so I asked her again if she would please call me a taxi. Again she said she would when she wasn’t busy. She just looked at me so I guess standing there waiting for a customer to come in was being busy.
Finally I got tired of waiting so I wheeled myself backwards back to the street, around the curve and up the hill. The traffic kept flying by not even paying attention to me in a wheel chair trying to make it up the side of the road. Some people got mad, blowing their horns and hollering at me but how else was I to get up the hill? There was no sidewalk and I could not push myself backwards in a wheel chair up hill in the grass.
Several times I had to stop for rest; by now I was exhausted. Finally I made it up the hill almost into the bus station parking lot when I saw a vehicle flying toward me with its loud horn just a-blowing. The car pulled into the parking lot, the door flew open and there was Cat running towards me crying. She didn’t care how rough I looked, all sweaty and exhausted, she just hugged me.
Like a wave, the words in her heart rolled over me, “I can’t believe it’s you; you are exactly here! I never thought this day would come. Am I dreaming?”
I laughed and said, “I think I am.”
Cat said we had better get out of the road and get in the car. So we did, then on the drive home, she explained how she had hurried off to the grocery store not thinking I would be there so early. When she got home she saw the phone flashing; hearing the message, she took off immediately to come get me.
Now it had been decades since Cat and I had been together. We had each been thru so much in all those years and it would take time for us to adjust to one other. We could not know what the future would hold or the huge changes we would both need to make to find the peace and happiness we had known so long ago.
We knew all about my health issues but at that point had no idea what to do other than using herbs and other natural remedies and a nutritious diet to heal my body. We had no idea that so quickly my life would require non-stop appointments as my supervised release officer and my resource officer put me in contact with the Veteran’s Administration, Social Security, and the United Way Veterans to arrange for all the medical care I so desperately needed for my cancers, kidney and heart issues, eye and dental needs not to mention the orthopedic surgeries I would need for my crippled legs and arms. To date I have had three major surgeries and more are pending.
Besides all this there were other needs to be met. All I owned were the clothes on my back, I would need an ID and a driver’s license, something to wear, and so much more. Just trying to adjust to being free and experiencing how much the world had changed was a mind blowing experience. In truth I was in total shock and soon Cat would be as well. It would take all the faith, strength and courage we both could muster to get through the next nine months.
Note: Only after my release did I discover that to this day I’m still listed by the FBI as a terrorist stemming from my small involvement with AIM as a teenager in the 1970ies. (See Chapters 12, 13, 24, 25, 26)